America, since its inception, has been rather suspicious of any organized majority growing so voluminous that it effectively subjugates the minority into submission. Why else should a loosely held band of colonialists shirk a tyrannical monarchy many thousands of miles away and establish a new republic? The idea is simple: the minority, no matter how onerous, ought not be legislated or forced to march lockstep with any majority. This principle suffered a knee-capping today.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a controversial procedure certainly living up to its name, invoked the “nuclear option” to force sweeping changes to the bodies’ filibuster rules. Where previous filibusters (used to stall contested bills or nominations) needed a 67-vote supermajority to end, they now only require a simple majority. While using such a politically loaded maneuver to foist any change is of questionable wisdom, the change to the filibuster rules is unquestionably deleterious to any minority political party hoping not to be drown out by the majority, now and in the future.
An important (and more so every year) function of the three-branch system of federal government are “checks and balances”. No one branch can accumulate for itself greater power without the other two calling into question the constitutionality of such. The filibuster was the Senate’s version within it’s own chamber, allowing the minority party to “check” against the ambition of the majority and insured their concerns were properly aired during a bill or presidential nominee’s consideration. The supermajority needed to end a filibuster protected the minority’s invocation of the procedure, forcing the majority party to build a coalition, usually across party lines, to end debate.
No longer. With Senator Reid’s changes, the ability of the minority party to insulate itself from a majority willing to ram decisions through the chamber is largely dissolved. President Obama hailed the decision, saying it was needed to deal with Republican’s “pattern of obstructionism”.
Of course, filibuster reform helps the ol’ chap now. Obama was singing a different tune in 2005, when as part of the Democratic minority he decried a Republican threat to invoke the nuclear option to reform filibuster rules. “What [the American people] don’t expect is for one party – be it Republican or Democrat – to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.”
Ramblin’ Joe Biden was no different. “At its core, the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it’s about compromise and moderation. The nuclear option extinguishes the power of independents and moderates in the Senate.”
Hmm, wonder what changed. Republicans before today could easily have made an identical argument. In any case, the minority yesterday could extract their pound of flesh from the majority via filibuster, but today lost a key bargaining chip thanks to a party eager to regain their footing after a month and a half’s worth of kidney punches from the Greek tragedy that-is Obamacare. Where Bush-era Republicans merely made the threat, Obama-era Democrats made good on it, and one can always count on such. Under this administration, it’s do as we say, not as we do.